UNDERSTANDING YOUR STEPCHILD
Victoria was about 10 years old when her father, Ryan, married Lisa. In her view, she had little control over the events unfolding in her life, including her mother remarrying and starting a new family quickly.
Even though Lisa seemed nice enough and obviously really loved her dad, it still didn’t seem fair to Victoria that her life had to change so radically. When she met me for an interview, she was eager to share her perspectives as a stepchild.
In her mind, nothing would ever be the same after her parents’ split and she believes that parents ought to be more understanding about the stepchild’s plight.
Victoria reflects, “I wrote on my closet door, ‘January 18 was the worst day of my life’ — the day of my parents’ divorce. For me, divorce meant changes in where I lived, changes at school and with friends and having to spend time with new adults I didn’t particularly want to spend time with.
No one asked me if I wanted any of those things to happen, but they did, without my consent, and sometimes without warning.”
During our in-depth interview, Victoria speaks with anguish about both of her parents getting remarried around the same time. She explains, “I had a teacher tell me that if I loved my parents, I would accept their significant others because I’d want them to be happy. Inside I was screaming, ‘What about my happiness?’”
These are hard issues, and there are no easy fixes, but following these tips can help you weather the rough times and be a supportive stepparent.
8Tips to Bond with Your Stepchild and Create Positive Memories as a Stepfamily
- Proceed slowly. Take your time getting to know your stepchild. If you rush the relationship, it may satisfy your own unmet needs to be liked, but your approach could backfire. It’s important to realize that you’re not replacing your stepchild’s other parent; your role is more of a mentor. Never make your stepchild feel as if they have to choose between their biological parent and you. Over time, everyone in the recoupled family can create a positive culture together.
- Respect your spouse’s relationship with your stepchild. And don’t feel threatened by their close connection. Your partner will want to spend special time with their child, so try not to feel neglected by them. Make plans with your friends or with your own kids and graciously step out of their way.
- Develop a relationship with your stepchild through daily activities, hobbies, and shared interests to create positive memories. Strive to engage in activities as a family unit as much as possible so everyone has an opportunity to make a connection. Sharing interests in sports or the arts can help you develop a bond. Spending time together, even if it’s eating a meal or watching a movie, can help weave the fabric of stronger stepfamily relationships.
- Understand your stepchild’s view and have realistic expectations. First, it’s a given that your stepchild had a relationship with your spouse that existed before you came on the scene. They’re likely to see you as a rival to both of their parents. Even if your stepchild seems to like you well enough, they will sometimes prefer you weren’t in the picture and may express this by ignoring you or being indifferent or rude. Your remarriage effectively ends any hope of their mother and father reunifying and can reignite feelings of loss for your stepchild.
- Be sure to discuss roles and feelings about parenting with your spouse. Sometimes a biological parent may not understand a stepparent’s feelings of rejection. They may need you to tell them what they can do to support you. On the other hand, a biological parent may feel criticized and get defensive when their spouse offers unsolicited advice about parenting. Blending your sometimes-opposing styles of parenting and focusing on what you have in common will benefit all family members.
- Be courteous and respectful of your child’s and stepchild’s “other parent.” Keep in mind that it is likely that they would not have chosen to have their children live with them part-time. Stepparents need to stay out of interactions between biological parents working out holiday or vacation schedules, and biological parents need to be collaborative when planning family events.
- Realize that love often comes later. Even if you don’t hit it off with your stepchild, you can still develop a working relationship built on respect. If your stepchild does not warm up to you right away, that does not mean you have failed. Adopting realistic expectations can help you get through some rough spots. Be patient and try not to react with anger if your stepchild gives you the cold shoulder or is a little impolite sometimes.
- Cooperate with your partner, and talk, talk, talk. Most of the talking will take place away from your children or stepchildren, but be sure to have cordial conversations and informal discussions about family rules, roles, chores, and routines with the kids.
TERRY GASPARD, MSW, LICSW is a licensed therapist and author. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post, TheGoodMenProject, The Gottman Institute Blog, and Marriage.com. Her new book, out now, is THE REMARRIAGE MANUAL: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around.
Excerpted from THE REMARRIAGE MANUAL by Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW. Credit Terry Gaspard. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True. All rights reserved.